Ian Boyne | Anything to celebrate at Independence?
For many, if not most, Jamaicans, the only issue worth discussing about Independence is that it was celebrated yesterday and, distressingly, they don?t have a holiday tomorrow.
Independence is absolutely meaningless to them. If you insist on engaging them in a discussion of it, they will tell you we have gained little since Independence and that we have managed our own affairs disastrously. Our governments have reduced us to debt slavery, politicians have raped us, bureaucrats have treated us with contempt, business people have ripped us off, and civic leaders have sold us out. Cynicism is the word that best describes this post-Independence generation.
There are more than a few who are prepared to say that we had better under the white colonialists and that Jamaica today would have been better under British rule. Who is not disgusted by the phenomenon of garrisonisation, a modern-day relic of slavery where our citizens lose their freedom to thugs and dons who commandeer their underage daughters for sexual exploitation, forcibly take them out of their houses to vote for garrison members of parliament, and who use residents as props to stage demonstrations calling for justice for murderers and gangsters?
A political culture built on raw and vulgar victimisation and tribalism is nothing to celebrate. Decades of squandered economic opportunities, failed experiments and reckless economic management have made us pessimistic about our prospects. Endemic violence, supported by decadent dancehall and the nurturing and export of criminal gangs, hardly makes for celebration. So there is much to bemoan and bewail. But I suggest that we do have some things to celebrate and that our Independence has not been a totally lost cause.
Unlike many countries that have sought to settle political differences through coups, dictatorships and autocracies, Jamaica has never had a coup or an electoral crisis after a vote. Our parties contest fiercely and even bitterly, but when results are announced, they are accepted by the losers, even when they are sore losers. We don?t have rioting in the streets followed by weeks of instability.
We have had elections marred by irregularities, but never to the extent that any losing party has refused to accept the results, leading to a political impasse or a constitutional crisis. Even in this democratic Caribbean region, there have been coups and electoral crises. And there came a time when the flaws and irregularities in our electoral system were no longer tolerated and we engineered voting reform, resulting in an enviable electoral system today, a model internationally.
Not enough has been documented about the revolution that has taken place in this area, and how our political parties ? albeit under pressure from civil society, media and the people ? came together and created a system of which we all can be proud. This is a concrete post-Independence achievement. Young people take certain things for granted about our electoral system, but those of us who experienced the 1970s and early 1980s breathe a sigh of relief about it.
In human rights, we have made considerable progress. Ordinary working class and marginalised youth were regularly abused, exploited and killed with impunity, with little outcry from people uptown. Those persons were ?other?, the condemned ?them?.
Yes, poor people and youth are still abused and murdered extrajudicially and there is still much police excess. But no longer can these things take place without a hue and cry, without some form of accountability. We have INDECOM, an institutionalised mechanism for the protection of human rights. The human-rights lobby in Jamaica is strong, vibrant and vociferous. People can?t do as they please with poor people and the State can?t use repression blithely under the guise of national security.
The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry was critically important for what it symbolised and showcased. Poor, defenceless people whose rights were trampled were vindicated and their rights and dignity upheld, casting the searchlight of accountability on agents of the State who had cruelly abused their power.
We have important institutions like the Auditor General?s Department, the Office of the Contractor General, which put the searchlight on the delinquent and deceitful. There are important committees of Parliament that deepen our democratic processes beyond more than just five seconds in a polling booth every five years. Critically, we have a vibrant civil society whose voice has to be reckoned with by the political class. We have a dynamic press that cannot be ignored. Our media have, over the years, forced the powers that be to make changes in the interest of the people.
And in the area of the economy, we have made significant progress over the last few years. And our political parties have finally achieved consensus on certain basic economic policies. Both have abandoned fiscal recklessness and now understand that we have to finally cast off our crippling debt albatross.
We don?t give enough credit to our political parties for the consensus they achieved on economic strategy. We follow their convenient and self-serving propaganda about what divides them, forgetting the many areas in which they are following the same path. Happily for post-Independence Jamaica.
When you look at some of the problems that took up so much of our discussion time in the 1990s and early 2000s, and realise the progress we have made in those areas, you see that it is the Independence sceptics who have to take a reality check. Things are not rosy in Jamaica, and we have, indeed, managed our affairs badly in some areas, but our record is by no means dismal on all counts. Let us take time to celebrate our genuine achievements this Independence season.
It?s not just a matter of ?Let?s Get Together and Feel All Right?, as our theme this year frivolously suggests. Independence is a time for sober reflection, not just for sensual celebration, though that has its part. Our athletes in Rio will again demonstrate the greatness of this tiny island nation. That we have brought so much glory to track and field and that we have a man who has saved the sport is no small thing to celebrate.
Our athletes manifest the character and determination that is representative of many of us. The eyes of the world will be on this small nation?s athletes for the next few weeks.
This year, too, we celebrate 50 years of glorious rocksteady music. What a genre! Alton Ellis, John Holt, Slim Smith and Delroy Wilson are really immortal beings. They can?t die. Out of the bowels of the working class, out of oppression and marginalisation, these artistes emerged singing about love, life, social consciousness; giving us some of the most melodious songs known to mankind.
A small nation that could have produced the Blues Busters, Jackie Edwards, Owen Gray, Laurel Aiken, Lascelles Perkins, Roy Shirley, Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles and the Heptones, B.B. Seaton and the Gaylads, the Paragons, Cornel Campbell ? the list goes on.
Our fine art, our dance, our drama, our fashion have inspired the world. We have much to celebrate. We have made our mark all over the world. Yes, we have more than our fair share of problems. But let us not sell ourselves short. If we fail to acknowledge our strengths and genuine achievements, we will rob ourselves of the emotional energy and the inspiration to press forward. Though the day has passed, happy Independence season.